Community, Social Network, or Mob?
by Barry Graham
What some warmly call “community,” others may experience as a mob. In 2019, a friend of mine who’s a crime fiction author told me they were glad that the Mystery Writers of America had withdrawn its Grand Master award from Linda Fairstein, who, before becoming a novelist, was the prosecutor of the Central Park Five.
“I don’t think there’s a place for Fairstein in the community,” my friend said.
This told me I didn’t want to be part of “the community,” though, in Gary Snyder’s terms, my friend is probably mistaking network for community, as community includes people who don’t like or agree with one another. In an interview in the 1970s, Snyder pointed out there are networks of poets and networks of dentists. He said he had “followers” in the poetry network and the Zen Buddhist network, but not in the community in Northern California where he made his home.
No one could dislike Linda Fairstein, prosecutor, more than I do. I have no opinion, positive or negative, about Linda Fairstein, author, because I haven’t read her books. But I do know her books haven’t prosecuted anyone, innocent or guilty. And the books that made the MWA decide to give her the award have not changed since the decision to withdraw it. In giving in to pressure from those who dislike Fairstein the person, or their idea of her, in making a judgment ad personam rather than literary, the MWA showed itself to be not a literary community but a personal network.
Community is inclusive, not about who is “in” and who is “out.” In community, no one has the authority to exclude, to say who belongs and who doesn’t. In community, by definition, we’re all in it together. A network may be about cool kids and outcasts, Brahmins and Untouchables, but community can’t be.
My friend fell out with another crime writer on social media. The other writer had posted a quote from Mike Tyson, about boxing, and my friend responded by reminding them Tyson is a rapist. The other writer blocked my friend, who didn’t explain how a quote about boxing was invalidated by the criminal history of the former world boxing champion who said it. It seems no matter how authoritative a person might be in their field, if they don’t meet a certain moral standard in their personal conduct, then not only they, but their work and their expertise, are to be shunned. Whether or not they are proven guilty, whether or not they are imprisoned for a period of time, their livelihood, and their personhood, are to be denied indefinitely.
We should hope whoever finds a cure for cancer isn’t a rapist.